Stratfor Worldview recently argued that a base in Poland is a bad idea based on their likely counter-response. If the United States put a base in Poland they believe it will provide Russia an excuse for a counter-response such as further militarizing the Kaliningrad pocket or building an air base in Belarus.
Analysts debate how likely it is that Russia will invade. One specialist at West Point said it was unlikely that Russia would invade the Baltic countries. But the Baltic States are afraid enough, probably after looking at the Russian seizure of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, that they have a semi-permanent presence of NATO soldiers, and Poland wants a permanent presence of U.S. forces.
But this ignores the reality that American interests are currently being threatened by Russia. In extensive war games, RAND found the Russians would capture Riga, the capital of Latvia, within 48-60 hours. Both Polish and Baltic needs provide a solid argument for a permanent base. To counter a potential invasion of the Baltics, RAND suggested additional heavy battalions in the region that are forward-deployed and pre-supplied. Without this, NATO and U.S. forces would have to rely on rather wishful thinking.
That thinking dictates that they move from North Eastern Poland into Southern Lithuania to plug the vital Suwalki Gap. This gap is a roughly 60-mile stretch of territory at the nexus of borders between the heavily-armed Russian territory in Kaliningrad, the Russian ally Belarus, and the NATO partners Poland and Lithuania. This small force is supposed to hold the gap against what will likely be much larger Russian forces attacking from multiple directions. As Poland found out in the early stages of World War II, an aggressive foe striking from multiple angles can eviscerate a defending force. The current thinking doesn’t fully account for how large the Russian attack might be, and how overwhelming Russian artillery and missile fire could make any movement difficult.
But a permanent force of heavy units in Poland would be far more effective. The heavy forces will be ready to respond, and they will provide the key elements that force Russian heavy units to slow their advance, get off roads, and concentrate their forces for battle, all actions which make them better targets for superior NATO airpower to degrade the force. It would give them more time to move needed forces in the region.
Refraining from a military base in Poland would place the U.S. at a distinct disadvantage in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, in exchange for not provoking an already provocative Russia to do a little more of what they currently do. They already destabilize and threaten their neighbors, and have significant assets in the region that will overwhelm already-stationed U.S. forces and delay the needed reinforcements in the case of overt Russian aggression. In short, a base in Poland and the assets it would provide in the area are well worth the risk of irritating the Russians, whose militant actions already create a need for the base. Not doing so would be like averting your eyes from a bully because he might bully you some more for defending yourself. President Trump is right to explore creating a base in Poland and for ignoring establishment analysts.